Celebrating Black History Month And Pioneers in Healthcare


Every February, we celebrate the contributions African Americans have made in every field throughout the history of our country. In this article, we want to honor some of the contributions Black Americans have made in healthcare.

  1. Born a slave in 1757, James Derham won his freedom and became the first black person to receive a certificate to practice medicine in the US.
  2. Dr. JM Smith was the first African American to hold a medical degree, in 1837.
  3. Dr. Augusta was also the Army’s first black physician in the 1860s.
  4. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first black woman to earn a medical degree in 1864.
  5. Mary Mahoney, a native of Boston, is acknowledged as the first African-American woman to complete nurse’s training. She graduated from the nursing school at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1879.
  6. In 1893, Dr. Williams performed the first cardiac surgery to save a young stabbing victim’s life.
  7. Ellis paved the way in 1920. In 2012, there were more black neurologists (411) and black cardiologists (690) than all of the black men playing in the NBA (350).
  8. Vivien Thomas, along with a pediatric cardiologist, pioneered the surgical procedures to correct tetralogy of Fallot in 1943.
  9. In 1943, Dr. Logan was the first woman to perform open-heart surgery. Even today, only 3% of heart surgeons are women.
  10. In 1961, Dr. Elders became chief resident at the University of Arkansas and led a team of all-white, all-male residents and interns.
  11. Jemison, a native of Decatur, Alabama, was the first African-American woman admitted to the U.S. astronaut training program. She became the first African-American woman in space on Sep. 12, 1992, as a member of the space shuttle Endeavor’s crew.
  12. The unapologetically outspoken Elders was appointed the first African-American Surgeon General by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
  13. It was 1995 when Dr. Bristow became the first black president of the American Medical Association.
  14.  On June 24, 2008, Adams testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in support of the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2007, which sought to reduce ethnic disparities in health care, improve “cultural competency” among medical providers, and improve medical workplace diversity.
  15. Michelle Obama worked for nearly eight years to reduce childhood obesity by working with schools, communities and families to eat healthier and move more (2008-2015)
  16. Dr. Marie Johnson used cardiac catheterization to measure the pressure and blood flow in the heart to diagnose heart disease. (2017)

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